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Revisiting The Intense Twists And Turns Of Garner's 'Concert By The Sea'

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Revisiting The Intense Twists And Turns Of Garner's 'Concert By The Sea'

Music Reviews

Revisiting The Intense Twists And Turns Of Garner's 'Concert By The Sea'

Revisiting The Intense Twists And Turns Of Garner's 'Concert By The Sea'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/442215680/442278352" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In 1955, pianist Erroll Garner's trio played in Carmel, Calif. A new complete edition of the Concert By The Sea album has just been released. Critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Sixty years ago, in September, 1955, pianist Erroll Garner's trio played a concert at a hall in Carmel, Calif. A fan recorded it, and that tape became the jazz bestseller, "Concert By The Sea." A new complete edition has just been released with twice as much music. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's more of the same in the best way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG, "CARAVAN")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Erroll Garner's trio banging out "Caravan," one of 11 newly issued performances on the complete "Concert By The Sea." The old 1956 LP was a hit with folks who had just one jazz record and with the hipsters. In Holland, a teenage Han Bennink wore out a few copies, playing along until he knew all of drummer Denzil Best's accents by heart. Garner was always great. And the recording's not so pristine, but something about this record just got to people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Erroll Garner ran an unusual jazz trio. There are no bass or drum solos here, and Denzil Best uses wire brushes only - no sticks. It was all Erroll all the way, and he was basically self-propelled. Garner could get some Earl Hines fireworks going in his left hand. But more often, that left kept steady time like a great rhythm guitarist, unfazed by whatever his right hand was up to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG, "LULLABY OF BIRDLAND")

WHITEHEAD: Successful pop pianists usually feature the melody and will play a song the same way twice. Erroll Garner was very popular, but he'd gallop away from a tune right out of the gate, with the drummer and bassist Eddie Calhoun in hot pursuit. You'd think Garner's endless invention would be exhausting to listen to. But audiences were exhilarated. Every move was playful, the blustery introductions and caffeinated rhythms, the sudden dips in volume using, the easy and obscure quotations and extended side-trips. You wouldn't know it from this long excerpt, but this is "Lullaby Of Birdland."

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG, "LULLABY OF BIRDLAND")

WHITEHEAD: A little quote from "Let's Fall In Love" there. Improvising, Erroll Garner might quote from another tune so often, you could lose track of what he's actually playing. It's all part of the game he plays with the listener. He challenges you to keep up. On his Carmel concert he quotes from Gene Ammons' "Red Top" a few minutes before playing it, a little preview. When he does get to the tune, he goes off on Charlie Parker's blues "Now's The Time" and riffs on "Pop Goes The Weasel." That's Garner grunting along to his own jokes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG)

WHITEHEAD: Most of the music we've been hearing is now coming out for the first time. And it's all as creative and intense as the original Concert by the Sea. Erroll Garner is consistently resourceful, and he's relentless - the Terminator of jazz pianists. Often, this reviewer tries to give you the album highlight reel. But here, you can dip in anywhere. It's all that good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERROLL GARNER SONG)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz." He reviewed Erroll Garner's "Concert By The Sea," the new complete edition, which is a three-CD set on Columbia Legacy.

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